~ 041707 Study Finds Correcting Iron Deficiency Improves Cognitive Functioning

A study conducted at Pennsylvania State University and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (85, 3:778-787, 2007) found that iron supplementation significantly improved cognitive performance of young women. Researchers hypothesized that since brain iron deficiency at any time of life may disrupt metabolic processes and change cognitive and behavioral function, women of reproductive age who are among those most vulnerable to iron deficiency may be at high risk for cognitive alterations due to iron deficiency.

This single blind, placebo-controlled, stratified intervention was conducted with young women ages 18 to 35 years with varied iron status. Study subjects were randomly assigned to receive either an iron supplement or placebo. Their cognitive ability was assessed at the beginning of the study and again after 16 weeks, using eight cognitive performance tasks from Detterman's Cognitive Abilities Test.

At baseline, iron-sufficient women performed better on cognitive tasks and completed them more quickly than did women with iron deficiency anemia. Performance accuracy and time to completion of women who were iron-deficient but non-anemic were between the two extremes of iron status. After 16 weeks of supplementation, a significant improvement in serum ferritin was associated with a 5 to 7-fold improvement in cognitive performance, while a significant improvement in hemoglobin was related to improved speed in completing the cognitive tasks.

Researchers concluded iron status is a significant factor in cognitive performance in women of reproductive age. Severity of anemia primarily affected processing speed, while severity of iron deficiency affected accuracy of cognitive function over a broad range of tasks.

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